Introducing the intense, process-driven explorations of graphic designer Hoang Nguyen
The Vienna-based graphic designer has always been fascinated by the variety of graphic design as a medium. Here, she tells us more about her open-minded investigations.
- Jyni Ong
- 10 May 2021
Hoang Nguyen grew up in Thun, a place she describes as “a beautiful town surrounded a lake and mountains” in the German-speaking region of Switzerland. Venturing north-west via the Swiss capital Bern to Basel, Hoang studied visual communication and the famous Swiss visual language became impregnated within the budding designer’s mode of thought. Typography, print, book design and craftsmanship would go onto envelope her practice for the next few years, leading Hoang to work in prestigious studios in Zurich and Basel.
After some time, however, she felt a pull to work on more experimental projects outside the commercial context. These included self-initiated projects where Hoang could dive deep into design theory and incorporate more thinking into her practice. Long story short, she decided to enrol in the Academy of Basel to continue her studies, embarking on a course titled Master of Arts in Visual Communication and Iconic Research. She completed this postgraduate degree last year, and is currently living in Vienna where she’s established a new graphic design studio with fellow designer David Gobber called Nguyen Gobber, a practice working at the intersection of design, education, research and theory.
The multiplicity of graphic design has always pulled Hoang further into the discipline: “I was fascinated by the diversity of what you could do within the field,” she tells us. From the shaping of static and moving images, from 2D to 3D and pretty much everything else in between, the broadness of the medium continually entices Hoang. As is expected from a Swiss graphic designer, typography and the grid are prominent in Hoang’s work. The work is formed around a bespoke design system informed by the subject of the project. Hoang explains further: “My designs are therefore not so much the result of a spontaneous artistic expression as the outcome of an intense process-driven exploration of possible ways of visualisation.”
Crucially, she also thinks about other sensual expressions beyond the visuals of a design. “As my focus lies in print design,” she explains, “I am talking about the haptics, smell and other sensations triggered by the designed product, something that is unfortunately mostly lost when we share our work online.” Throughout her practice, Hoang pays particular attention to these details. It allows her to work precisely, accurately and artistically, something she illustrates through the discussion of recent projects.
First off, she talks us through the recent web design for Nguyen Gobber. Co-designed with David, the project was no mean feat in that the designers wanted to show off their expertise as much as possible while judging their own work from a critical distance at the same time. “The whole website is based on the metaphor of a plan cabinet,” explains Hoang, “which is a common piece of office furniture for every graphic designer.” Adding this 3D touch to the flat digital website design, Hoang and David approached the brief with an experiential quality. “It is a very visual first impression of our work and similar to how one would experience our projects if they were laid out on top of a plan cabinet in our studio.”
Just like how projects can be physically archived in the drawers of a cabinet, the website mimics this experience digitally. “You can skim through our work by looking at the labels of each entry in our portfolio,” Hoang adds. “With a click, you can open the ‘drawer’ which effectively expands the corresponding section of the page and explores the full documentation of the project.” Visual and pictorial elements can be explored freely in a shifting balance of information that unearths the ideas which informed the overarching concept of a project. Notably, there is also a reading section of the website where visitors can delve into the philosophy behind many of Nguyen Gobber’s projects.
Elsewhere, Hoang shares her master’s thesis with us, a research-heavy book titled Visualising Utopia: Switzerland after the Labour Society. A social-political exploration, the project explores the labour-focused status quo in Switzerland and concepts of dignified living. Bringing together the common strategies of utopic thinking, she visualised these strands and created a fictive report that “shows us a utopian society of Switzerland in which labour does not play such a central, and in many ways problematic, role anymore.” Mixing real and fiction events, the tome references a variety of material from 3D renderings of futuristic machines to technical visualisations and photographs. Infographics, essays and other kinds of data also help Hoang to bring together her argument. She finally goes on to say of the project: “I am very proud of this project as it deals with one of the most relevant topics we are confronted with today and it does so by providing a less common but very valuable perspective on it thanks to the means of graphic design.”
Hoang Nguyen: Spreads from An der Grenze der Lesbarkeit (English: At the Border of Readability), 2016, designed by Hoang Nguyen, (Copyright © Hoang Nguyen, 2016)
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.